Rare Flaws In Rank Choice Voting Are Causing Chaos

Ranked choice voting (RCV) is being promoted as a more representative voting technique by a political movement in the United States. It’s been strongly suggested that governments and voters carefully assess the merits and drawbacks of RCV before deciding whether or not to adopt it. 

Using RCV, voters rank their candidates in order of preference, with the candidate with the most first-place votes being declared the victor. Preference ballots are used in RCV, an “instant runoff voting” type that simulates the results of hypothetical runoff elections. 

It saw action in the United States Special Election in August 2022.

There were three candidates in Alaska’s House race: Republican Nick Begich, Independent Sarah Palin, and Democrat Mary Peltola. 

According to the numbers, 11,262 people selected Begich as their top choice but did not rank any other candidates. When only first-place votes are considered, Begich received 53,810, Palin received 58,974, and Peltola received 75,799 votes. 

From a social choice or mathematics perspective, this election highlights several of the drawbacks of RCV. 

One candidate may be harmed if more people vote for them, a phenomenon known as the “spoiler effect.” Voters could help their least preferred candidate win by putting them first in the polls.

This is problematic because voters should be able to prioritize their preferred candidate without fear of producing an unfavorable election result. 

A bill to eliminate ranked-choice voting in Alaska met with strong opposition during a House State Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, making its passage in the remaining days of the legislative session quite unlikely.

Jan Morrison, an RCV opponent from Soldotna, claimed that voters are often confused about what to do.

She said she’s having people tell her they will never vote again if it’s “the funny voting.” 

Laddie Shaw (R-Anchorage), the House Committee on State Affairs chairman, will host another public hearing on the bill next week.